Party profile — PVV

The Dutch nine-to-twelve-party system is sometimes hard to understand for foreigners; especially when the small parties come into play. Therefore I’m running a mini-series that treats all eleven parties that stand a decent chance of getting seats in the upcoming elections. We’ll go from largest to smallest.

Today we’ll continue with Geert Wilders’s PVV. It is by far the longest party profile I’ve written or will write.

History and party profile

The PVV is Geert Wilders, and Geert Wilders is the PVV. Other party members occasionally make the news, but they don’t matter. The PVV will rise and fall with Wilders.

Geert Wilders

Full name
Partij voor de Vrijheid
Translation
Freedom Party
Party leader
Geert Wilders, since 2004
Denomination
Populist
Block
Right
Economics
Originally right, but tacking to the left
Current seats
9
Polls
about 20-25
My estimate
about 10-15

Geert Wilders entered parliament in 1998 as a VVD backbencher. For years he did his work (competently, one assumes, since the VVD re-nominated him in 2002 and 2003). However, in 1999 he first expressed concern about the immigration of especially Moroccans. During the Purple period this subject was not important to the VVD, however.

Even before 9/11 Wilders tacked sharply to the right on the immigration question, and soon came to be known for his opinions on that subject. Initially he stressed that he was only against the tiny group of extremists, but after 9/11 he hardened his standpoints and came to be known as an opponent of Islam in general, and time and again he criticised government for not doing enough against Islamic radicals. Economically, too, he belonged to the far right wing of the VVD.

In 2004 he published an article meant for VVD internal discussion, He proposed expulsion of radical muslims, a law-and-order approach, and a veer away from the political centre and Purple in order to make the VVD a conservative right-wing party. A little later he refused to endorse the VVD standpoint that Turkey was eventually to be admitted to the EU.

VVD parliamentary leader Van Aartsen threatened to remove Wilders from the fraction if he did not return to the fold. In the end Wilders resigned from the fraction himself, and kept his seat in parliament. He announced he wanted to found a party (or movement) to represent Fortuyn’s ideas and principles. He also announced he wanted to avoid the chaos and arguments that characterized the LPF after Fortuyn’s death. This party became the PVV (Partij voor de Vrijheid; Freedom Party).

The PVV

The polls clearly showed him winning some seats. Wilders apparently represented right-wing VVD voters who were unhappy with the party’s centrist course. In the 2006 elections he won even more than expected: 9 seats. Even better, no other extreme-right party made it into parliament, leaving Wilders the sole heir of Fortuyn.

Since 2006 his standpoints have hardened to outright anti-Islamism. As far as he’s concerned, Islam should be banned from Dutch society, and with it the Moroccans, especially, who had gained a bad name when it came to petty criminality.

He grew and grew and grew in the polls, and now totally owns the topic of immigration. Initially the other parties reacted confusedly to his attacks, but after a while political leaders, especially on the left, found out that being perceived as Wilders’s main opponent was electorally quite interesting. Apart from enthousiastic followers, Wilders also generated bitter detractors.

Organisation

Uniquely among Dutch political parties, the PVV has no members. Well, technically speaking it must have at least two to qualify, but the two PVV members are Geert Wilders and the Geert Wilders Foundation.

Thus Wilders totally keeps everything in his own hands. Although this is not very democratic, on balance it’s a wise decision. All other parties of the extreme right from Fortuyn’s own LPF on have had severe stability problems. Frequently party politicians and senior members clash openly, or are discovered to steal money, or behave most un-statesmanlike. This caused the downfall of the LPF and will cause the downfall of Wilders’s tiny competitor ToN.

Instead, Wilders is very good at vetting candidates. Although there have been a few incidents (one PVV MP drank too much and hit a barkeeper, another drove while drunk), they are peanuts when compared to the other extreme-right parties. Most importantly, everybody toes the party line, and there haven’t even been hints of rumours of internal fights. I can tell you, this is a rare thing on the extreme right wing.

The disadvantage of keeping everything in his own hands is that Wilders has few candidates; far too few to man the tens, maybe even hundreds of seats he’d have to fill if he participated in local and provincial elections, too.

Therefore the PVV is extremely picky about which elections it participates in. The national ones, obviously, but otherwise it has only ever submitted a list for the 2009 European elections (5 of 25 seats), and the local elections in Almere (9 of 39) and Den Haag (8 of 45).

Fitna

In 2007 Wilders announced he was going to make a film called Fitna that was supposed to mercilessly expose Islam’s evilness. One of the meanings of “fitna” is “evil.” (It ought to mean “manipulation of the media by clever right-wing politician.”)

Wilders kept referring to it for months and months, once again hijacking media attention and reinforcing his immigration theme. And when the left predictably started to get really nervous and denounced his for his film, Wilders replied that nobody could yet know what Fitna was about since it hadn’t been published yet. Confusion ensued, and everybody talked about the film even more than before.

When it was finally released it turned out to be moderately anti-Islam, but to contain none of the expected juicy bits. Still, debates had to be held, and Wilders could time and again shine in the light of the immigration topic that he now thoroughly owned.

Then Wilders effortlessly used his tactics on the Brits. Lord Pearson, leader of the UKIP, invited Wilders to come show his film in the House of Lords. The UK immigration service notified him that he was persona non grata in the UK, and Wilders promptly set out for London, followed by 50 journalists. His formal refusal of entry made the headlines, and once again Wilders gained not only national, but Europe-wide interest.

All in all the Fitna episode shows that Wilders is a very canny politician who knows exactly how to play the media.

To the left

Originally Wilders was a VVD right-winger, also economically speaking. He always remained so, although economics aren’t his strong suit and he doesn’t talk about them a lot, except to call for an end to culture subsidies — a right-wing talking point if there ever was one.

However, in the 2009/10 pension age debate, Wilders clearly and unequivocally opposed the increase from 65 to 67. He was the only one to do so, apart from the SP. Even more oddly, this is a left-wing talking point.

We’ll treat his reasons in a moment. The point here is that, while I count the PVV as economically centrist, its centrism is of a wholly different kind than the CDA’s or D66’s. These parties take a centre position in the debate of state versus market, and defend that position philosophically.

Wilders just has a crazy mish-mash of left-wing and right-wing talking points, and one wonders whether that will satisfy voters both from the left and the right that look for more than just anti-Islam rhetoric.

12 years in parliament

Sending new people to parliament to clean up the mess the old-boys-network politicians have made is a recurring theme in Wilders’s speeches. In that regard it’s useful to know that by now Wilders himself is one of the longest-sitting MPs, having been in parliament from 1998 onwards. Nowadays MPs disappear as fast as they appear, and even an eight-year term becomes unusual.

Electoral position

Wilders’s most important electoral competitor is the VVD from which he came.

Wilders started on the VVD’s right wing, and it’s there that his most important and loyal voters reside. From the start he’s been supported both by right-wing VVD voters who felt their party was too soft on immigration (and economics), as well as by non-voters who finally discovered a politician they could agree with.

The Wilders effect

It was Pim Fortuyn who first reached out to the non-voters in 2002. Since then, some of them have ceased to be non-voters and instead opted for the LPF in 2002 and 2003, for Wilders in 2006 and, presumably, in 2010.

Wilders voters are very motivated (I wouldn’t be surprised if in motivation they rank only below the CU/SGP voters). Besides, they can’t always vote PVV, but only in those elections where Wilders submits a list; to date the 2006 and 2010 national elections, the 2009 European elections, and the 2010 local elections in Almere and Den Haag. But they couldn’t vote for their hero in all the other local elections, nor in the 2007 provincial elections.

Thus, when a Wilders supporter finally can vote, he will do so enthousiastically. Therefore turnout goes up where Wilders participates. This was very clear in Almere and Den Haag; less clear in the European elections. Since turnout is usually quite low (about 35% for European elections, about 45% for local elections in cities), the new voters, maybe 5% of the total electorate, can easily press their stamp on the elections and give Wilders a monster victory just by participating.

The point, the absolutely crucial point to remember here is that this mechanism doesn’t work in the national elections! First of all, national turnout is between 75% and 80%, so the influx of new voters would have less of a shock effect. Secondly, Wilders voters have already been going to the polls since 2002, so nationally Wilders will mobilise far less non-voters than locally.

In other words, where Wilders can draw non-voters to the polls in all other elections, he cannot do so (or do so only to a trivial degree) in the national ones. Besides, where some voters will easily vote “protest” in a second-rank election, they’ll hesitate to do so in the national elections, which even non-political people admit are important.

Don’t believe anyone who says that Wilders’s percentages in the European (30%) and Almere (21%) elections indicate a huge victory nationally. They don’t.

To the left

I feel that the 2003 and 2006 give a fair picture of the strength of the extreme right wing: 8 and 9 seats respectively. I feel that, as long as the PVV remains a right-wing protest party, it will not grow much beyond that number. Maybe to 12, maybe even to 15 in a year the VVD does badly (i.e. not this year), but that’s about it.

The point is that many malcontent voters who’d like to see somewhat less immigration to the old neighbourhoods they live in were originally left-wing voters; overwhelmingly PvdA. That’s why it was exactly the PvdA that lost half its seats in the 2002 Fortuyn elections. Fortuyn could also mobilise left-wing malcontents. To date his successors have failed to do so. Instead, in 2003 the malcontents gave the PvdA one more chance, and in 2006 they went for the SP.

Wilders can only succeed way beyond 12 or so seats by reaching out to left-wing protest voters.

These left-wing voters like Wilders“s anti-Islam rhetoric, but not his economic platform, which was copied from the VVD and then bent to the right somewhat. In-between elections that doesn’t much matter; many of them will tell the pollster they support Wilders. But when actual elections draw near, some might reconsider their vote because of economic issues.

That’s why, after the VVD, the SP is the most serious electoral competitor. And that’s why Wilders is tacking wildly to the left, especially by declaring the rejection of the pension age increase from 65 to 67 non-negotiable.

The big question is whether former left-wing voters will believe an ex-VVDer when he tells them he’ll stand up for their social rights. Besides, other points in his programme are not left-wing at all. If the left-wing parties, especially competitor SP, are clever, they’ll attack Wilders here, at his weakest spot.

Still, Wilders is much more protesty than the SP, which is switching to moderation in order to become eligible for coalition negotiations.

Whether Wilders will bind the left-wing protest voters to his person remains the question of these elections.

Potential coalitions

Wilders is casting the elections as a race between him and Bos Cohen, in order to determine who’s going to become prime minister. This trick is not new; PvdA leader Den Uyl invented in in 1977, and since then the CDA has used it often. Still, a prime-minister race has always been between CDA and PvdA. A third party declaring one is new. Obviously, having one candidate on the left versus two on the right strengthens the left.

The only coalition

Still, if Wilders seriously wants to become prime minister, he’ll have to start working seriously on a coalition. And that’s what he doesn’t do.

Meanwhile all left-wing parties as well as the CU have more or less excluded Wilders from the negotiations. PvdA and D66 have gone furthest by formally excluding him, the other parties have quoted grave differences of opinion.

Initially CDA and VVD did not exclude Wilders, and that has become an angle of attack for the left wing; especially for the PvdA against the CDA. Meanwhile Balkenende has stated that, while the CDA never excludes any party ever, he also sees serious discrepancies between CDA and PVV ideas, and he indicated that stiff negotiations would be required in order to form any CDA+PVV coalition.

That leaves the VVD as the single party that hasn’t excluded Wilders in any way. Besides, it makes sense to get your largest competitor into government with you, especially when economically there’s not that much of a difference between the two. Thus, any PVV-led coalition will also include the VVD.

But after the VVD has been secured Wilders has to woo the CDA, which is going to be one tough problem. Besides, right now a CDA+VVD+PVV coalition doesn’t have a majority. Will they have to include orthodox Reformed SGP for a majority? That would be ... unusual.

Still, this coalition is Wilders’s only serious chance at becoming prime minister, or even minister for Immigration and Integration.

Opposition

Besides, I seriously doubt whether Wilders wants to go into government at all. Once he’s there he’ll have to compromise with his coalition partners, and that would hurt his standing as the only politician who says what everybody thinks.

Therefore, on balance, I feel that, although Wilders may have to pretend to negotiate, he is not aiming for a true coalition.

That’s especially true since being in the opposition would serve him even better. Then he can attack a government (any government) from the extreme right, get media attention, and generally repeat what he’s done in the past few years, and gain even more votes come the next elections.

Cordon sanitaire

This prospect becomes all the more alluring if he can clearly lay the blame for his failure to enter a coalition with the Others. The left-wing parties would be ideal, but even blaming CDA or VVD would be pretty cool, too.

Wilders wants the other parties to proclaim a cordon sanitaire against him.

This requires a quick excurse. From 1991 onwards, the Vlaams Blok (currently Vlaams Belang) party in Belgium started to win a lot of seats. The VB has standpoints similar to Wilders about immigration, but combines this with Flemish nationalism (agains the French-speaking Walloons), something that’s entirely absent from Dutch politics and not easily understood by the Dutch.

The other Belgian parties reacted by forming a cordon sanitaire: they agreed never ever to form a coalition with the VB. Electorally, this decision helped the VB a lot. VB voters, like Wilders voters, feel excluded already; if that exclusion is formalised they’ll vote for the party even more.

In any case, on our side of the border the Flemish developments were followed with great interest, and eventually the cordon sanitaire was denounced as an unworkable tool, exactly because it gives the excluded party an extra boost in the polls. Therefore, ever since Fortuyn’s revolt in 2002 the Dutch political parties have carefully refrained from forming a cordon sanitaire against the extreme-right-du-jour.

Still, with all the recent exclusions of left and right, a cordon sanitaire might be forming after all, and it’s exactly what Wilders wants. True, the left-wing voters love their parties’ principled stands against Wilders, but in the end this is not a viable strategy.

Therefore it’s good that the VVD hasn’t excluded Wilders, and it would be very good if the PvdA could get over its wounded pride and cooperate with the PVV in Almere and Den Haag, and with ideologically related LR in Rotterdam. If that happens, Wilders would never be able to claim the other parties are forming a cordon sanitaire.

Balkenende I — repeat performance

Still, Wilders vastly prefers opposition to coalition. He will not participate in the new government if he can help it.

Thus, the best strategy CDA and VVD could follow is force him to enter a coalition (which is only possible if the right block gets a majority, but that could happen). The threat in the background is a repeat of the ill-fated Balkenende I government, which included Fortuyn’s LPF (though, obviously, not Fortuyn himself). Within three months the LPF had blown itself up, new elections were called, and the Fortuynists went from 26 to 8 seats.

A repeat performance is the gravest threat Wilders is facing. Still, this will only become a possibility if the right block gains a majority.

<— New Peil.nl poll | Balkenende’s twilight —>

This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.

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Comments (closed)

1 Posted by Bryan on 15 March 2010 | Permalink

With the organizational limitations you describe the PVV is going nowhere. Wilders cannot personally micro-manage a national party. PVV is at or close to, its peak right now. The CDA and VVD should treat Wilders exactly as they view him “poison” and make it clear no coalition with Wilders. Wilders already wants to attack Cohen. Cohen is absolutely the best equipped to discredit Wilders and CDA and VVD should be in the wings to help. Once the PVV phenomenon comes to an end the voters will have real choices again. On immigration, the CDA/ VVD ideas a couple of Cabinets ago were novel and more creative compared to the rest of Western Europe. PVV will crumble, if not significantly through the debates this election cycle, PvdA is the top party in June and PVV gets a little reprieve in opposition; however, if Wilders self destructs against Cohen and is totally discredited, CDA and VVD still have a chance in June. I hope somebody can you tube portions of the debate with English subtitles

2 Posted by Frans on 16 March 2010 | Permalink

"Wilders just has a crazy mish-mash of left-wing and right-wing talking points, and one wonders whether that will satisfy voters both from the left and the right that look for more than just anti-Islam rhetoric."

I really dislike Wilders' obsession with Islam and his generic xenophobia, but his "crazy mishmash" is something I don't dislike. Besides I also view SP as a "crazy mishmash" (from the opposite direction) though perhaps that's just because I grew up with purple PvdA.

"Don’t believe anyone who says that Wilders’s percentages in the European (30%) and Almere (21%) elections indicate a huge victory nationally. They don’t."

I agree. I didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

@1: "On immigration, the CDA/ VVD ideas a couple of Cabinets ago were novel and more creative compared to the rest of Western Europe."

I hope you're not referring to Verdonk's policies unless that's sarcasm!

"I hope somebody can you tube portions of the debate with English subtitles"

They're typically not very interesting I'd say.

3 Posted by Bryan on 16 March 2010 | Permalink

Even though I like blogs because sarcasm often gives better insight on how voters are thinking, in the case of the use of the terms "novel and creative" I was thinking of the Dutch policy requiring future residents to pass language and cultural tests before arriving in Holland (novel) and the minimum income requirement for foreign marriage partners (creative). Obviously, implementation has proven that these policies were not "effective" and even "legal" in light of the recent European Court of Justice ruling as to the minimum wage policy. However, no developed country is immune to the immigrant issue so looking for sensible solutions, even if it is by trial and error should be a job for government.

4 Posted by Frans on 16 March 2010 | Permalink

"I was thinking of the Dutch policy requiring future residents to pass language and cultural tests before arriving in Holland (novel)"

I think offering proper language education rather than forcing inconvenient times and inferior difficulty levels is a much better method. The message that we think gays and nudity are awesome and that you should perhaps reconsider if you don't like such things is perhaps a good one, but as far as I understand it, it's mostly a waste of time and money. I'd opt for the alternative term "ridiculous," at least regarding the execution. I probably feel similar toward the idea in and of itself, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. Btw, I'm not quite sure if it's all that novel?

"the minimum income requirement for foreign marriage partners (creative)"

Well, that's one way to make it sound positive. I call it illegal fascist xenophobic nonsense (at least the Dutch implementation). An income requirement is nothing out of the ordinary though. Only the insanely high one is.

'implementation has proven that these policies were not "effective" and even "legal"'

Seeing how the goal is to reduce immigrants they were quite effective, and also quite illegal (not merely "legal").

5 Posted by ppk on 16 March 2010 | Permalink

Please Frans, your point is one worth making, but maybe slightly fewer words such as "fascist" and "xenophobe" would help you make it better.

Bryan, you stepped on some toes here. Bound to happen when you go native.

6 Posted by Leonid on 17 March 2010 | Permalink

Thank you for the interesting post.

Regarding the integration of muslim immigrants in the Dutch society, which of the following statements describes the attitude of other parties best?

1) There is no special problem with the integration of muslims.

2) There is a problem but eventually it will go away by itself.

3) There is a problem but it can be dealt with by taking certain measures.

4) The issue should be discussed as little as possible.

5) Some other option.

7 Posted by Bryan on 17 March 2010 | Permalink

As an American (republican) who has greatly enjoyed visiting the Netherlands and who is fascinated with the Dutch form of government, I have no problem with Dutch voters explaining, correcting, or challenging a view or perception. Thanks for your patience.

8 Posted by Frans on 17 March 2010 | Permalink

ppk, you're right. I should've given a little more thought to expressing my opinion in a slightly more neutral manner with perhaps a few more arguments, though there was no space for the latter in my reply here. I think I'll link to a more extensive reply on my own blog later today since you wish to keep the comments here relatively short.

Bryan, I'll be writing this mostly as an explanation and argumentation of my opinion to you, which was more or less absent in the reply I posted earlier. Ignoring the rather high income requirement for a minute (which even if you're a freelancer making plenty of money can't be met because you don't have permanent employment, even if you've got plenty of money on a savings account you can't meet it because you don't presently make enough money, etc.), there are many things explicitly aimed at making things harder and more expensive. For instance, I presume you have a driver's license and quite a few years of driving experience. If you come to the Netherlands, you'll be allowed to drive with an international driver's license for a little while longer, but eventually you'll have to obtain a Dutch driver's license. This will cost you at the very least about €500. I'm out of space and time now. :)

9 Posted by ppk on 17 March 2010 | Permalink

@Leonid: number 3, and a bit of number 5.

Basically the other parties hurry to agree with Wilders about the problems, and also call for strict measures against criminal immigrants.

The problem is that this standpoint is not much different from Wilders's, and that a true discussion remains impossible as long as Wilders keeps this topic hostage.

10 Posted by ppk on 17 March 2010 | Permalink

@Frans: Please write down your thoughts on your own blog. Linking to it in the comments is perfectly allowed; even encouraged.

@Bryan: once the discussion gets really going you'll learn a lot.

Thanks!

11 Posted by Frans on 17 March 2010 | Permalink

@Bryan, ppk: I finished my thoughts on the matter. If you think I got any of the facts wrong, please drop me a comment or an e-mail, preferably including a link showing regulation or some such clearly contradicting me. I imagine the discussion should best stay on this blog, but of course anyone's free to register (anti-spam measure) and comment directly on mine.

12 Posted by Frans on 17 March 2010 | Permalink

http://frans.lowter.us/2010/03/17/a-morass-of-rules-and-regulations-dutch-immigration-policy/

My apologies, I must've either typod something or my link got stripped. Here's hoping it'll show up now. :)

13 Posted by Bryan on 17 March 2010 | Permalink

@ Frans Thanks for providing an excellent explanation of the immigration measures which have received some notoriety in the U.S. It provided much needed context as to how the measures are applied.
There has been virtually no discussion of immigration in America during the last couple of years, mostly health care and worries about the economy, so the complexities of immigration have not been discussed. I see my causal comments were not very meaningful. Thanks for your time on this issue.

14 Posted by Frans on 17 March 2010 | Permalink

@Bryan: I think the media make it appear like these laws only affect Muslims, or at least non-Western citizens. Most Dutch people don't realize these laws would affect them just as much if they happened to enter a relationship with a non-EU foreigner. Any non-EU foreigner. The "secret" here is that most of these so-called Moroccans are actually Dutch citizens. The reason that they are indeed also Moroccan citizens is that the Dutch state automatically submits babies born of Moroccan descent for Moroccan citizenship without asking the parents what they want. A Dutch-Moroccan couple found this out when they wanted to give their baby a name that was apparently not allowed in Morocco. They had trouble giving their Dutch baby born in the Netherlands a name that was not allowed in Morocco because lo and behold, then the automatic submission would fail.

As to why Dutch people have less rights than foreigners with a permit, see http://www.nrc.nl/international/article2501656.ece/Court_thwarts_Dutch_immigration_policy
Note that the essential waste of €1,500 still applies, just that less people will be rejected outright.